Former chief executive Donald Tsang has been ordered to pay around HK$5 million in legal costs after failing to cooperate with a corruption investigation. The court said the investigation expended an “enormous amount of time and manpower.”

Last February, Tsang was found guilty of misconduct in public office for failing to disclose his plans to lease a Shenzhen luxury flat from a major investor in a broadcaster – a firm which was later granted a government broadcast licence on his watch.

The first former leader of the city to be convicted in a criminal trial, Tsang was given a 20 months’ imprisonment and has since been released on bail pending appeal.

Donald Tsang
Former chief executive Donald Tsang and his wife Selina Tsang entering the court. File Photo: HKFP.

He was unanimously acquitted of another misconduct charge over an allegation that he failed to declare that an architect he proposed for a government award was employed as an interior designer on the apartment.

With regards to a third charge of accepting an advantage over his penthouse renovation works, the prosecution said that it would not seek another retrial unless the court gave such directions, after a jury failed to reach a valid verdict last November.

‘No assistance’ 

In a judgment on Tuesday, High Court judge Andrew Chan said that, between February and June 2012, Tsang “rendered no assistance” to the  to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), during the remainder of his term as chief executive. This was despite his “repeated assurance” to the public that he would do so.

Chan also said that, when approached by the ICAC, Tsang did not provide a copy of the lease and payment record for the Shenzhen property. He only did so when the ICAC made known it had the power to seize the documents. When Tsang was interviewed under caution, he offered no explanation relating to his property or persons involved in the case, Chan added.

high court
Photo: In-Media.

“In front of the media outside the Eastern Magistrates’ Court on 5 October 2015, the Defendant stated that in the past three and half years he had rendered full co‑operation to the investigation of the ICAC. That seems to be very far from the truth,” Chan wrote in the judgment.

“As a result, an enormous amount of time and manpower had been put into the investigation unnecessarily on undeniable facts.”

The prosecution applied for one third of the first trial’s costs, which the court said was estimated to be in the region of HK$15 million. According to the judge, the prosecution’s application for costs was not based on Tsang’s choice to exercise his right to silence – which he is entitled to – but “based on the totally unnecessary costs which the taxpayer had to pay.”

“Given the above, I am of the view that there are special circumstances in this case that warrant the imposition of the costs order against the Defendant,” the judge ruled, adding that Tsang “is in a position to pay the costs.”

Discharge of juror

In his judgment, Judge Chan also gave reasons for the discharge of a juror. He said that, during the second trial, a juror was discharged after he was seen approaching newspaper columnist To Kit. The writer, also known as Chip Tsao, had publicly expressed support for Tsang. To was also brought to court by a public relations representative and sat in an area reserved for Tsang’s family and friends. The juror later admitted that he was a follower of To Kit’s radio show.

“In my view, the seeking out of Mr To Kit raised a real possibility that Mr Kiu could not be fair minded in the way that he approached the case,” the judge said.

Donald Tsang
Donald Tsang. Photo: Citizen News.

The judge added that discharging the juror “led me at that stage to realise, for the first time, that [a] public relations firm or consultant had been involved in this trial.” Chan stated that towards the end of the second trial, a number of prominent political figures were sat in the exclusive area in court.

“The objective was undoubtedly to inform and impress upon the jury that the Defendant was a good person and had support from people across the whole spectrum of the society… Had the engagement of [a] public relations firm or consultant been brought to my attention earlier, I might consider discharging the entire jury,” the judge said.

Not-for-profit, run by journalists and completely independent. Contribute to our critical month-long HK$1m Funding Drive, help safeguard our independence and secure our operations for another year. Read how carefully we spend every cent in our Annual/Transparency Report.

2018 hkfp promo (2)

[give_goal id=”150839″ show_text=”true” show_bar=”true”]

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.